Each year, Football Outsiders puts together a list of the NFL’s best and brightest young players who have barely played. A little over a week ago, Football Outsiders released a list where they had San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill ranked as the No. 10 prospect. They took the list and took it to ESPN+, and this time another youngster on the Niners made the cut. Before we get into what was said, here is the full criteria of who is eligible to make the list:
Drafted in the third round or later, or signed as an undrafted free agent.
Entered the NFL between 2017 and 2019.
Fewer than 500 career offensive or defensive snaps (except running backs, who are allowed just 300 offensive snaps).
Have not signed a contract extension (players who have bounced around the league looking for the right spot, however, still qualify for the list).
Age 26 or younger in 2020.
Mike Person was the 49ers’ starting right guard last year, but it was Brunskill who showed time and again that he belonged on the field. Working at both tackle and guard, Brunskill blew just two blocks that led to sacks — one against Aaron Donald — and showcased some pass-blocking steadiness on a team that needed a lot of it over the course of the season due to various injuries.
Age: 24 | Draft: Pick 67 in 2019 | Career snaps: 0
What makes Hurd such a fascinating player is that he has the classic X receiver body, but he also spent a large majority of his college career as a running back — a running back who started ahead of Alvin Kamara. He spent three years at Tennessee, then transferred to Baylor, where, after a year learning the position, he went off for 946 yards on 69 catches as a senior.
So obviously, you’ve got a lot of after-the-catch ability here. If Hurd had a bonkers pro day (he didn’t work out at the combine), he probably had top-two-rounds ability, but he ran only a 4.66 40-yard dash coming off offseason knee surgery. Hurd then went and caught two touchdowns in the 49ers’ first preseason game before a stress fracture in his back later in the preseason cost him his rookie year.
Anybody who cuts like this and who plays in a Kyle Shanahan offense should be on your radar, and that was before Deebo Samuel’s Jones fracture put his early-season availability in doubt. Jimmy Garoppolo told reporters in June: “When you have a guy like that, it makes quarterbacking very easy.” Hurd is the obvious draft value choice to get extended snaps and, if he’s used anything like the way the Titans used A.J. Brown last year, he could be an instant hit in fantasy leagues.
To play zero snaps and make the list says a lot about Hurd’s talent.
I didn’t agree with the last line where the author compares Hurd’s usage to Brown’s. Going off memory, it seemed like Brown was a deep target for the Titans. I never got those vibes from watching Hurd in college, and Kyle Shanahan used Hurd primarily on “over” routes when he ran play-action. That was the extent of Hurd’s “deep” usage. After looking up how Brown was used as a rookie, the comparison isn’t far off at all.
Per PFF, Hurd was targeted over 20 yards 18 times last year. That may be steep for Hurd, but Brown also had 36 targets between 10-20 yards. Now that is right up Hurd’s wheelhouse, especially down the seams. I could see Kyle using Hurd at screens and quick passes underneath, too, considering how difficult he is to bring down.
Another disappointing part about training camp being limited this year is missing out on 1-on-1’s. Those are great reps for young receivers, and the 49ers have some top-tier cornerbacks that will test Hurd. There has been plenty of hype around a handful of Niners players this offseason, but Hurd is one of the few that deserve it.